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We almost saw Yellow Submarine tonight.

My fiancée and I almost saw Yellow Submarine tonight. Then it all went wrong.

A while back, I saw the HD trailer for Yellow Submarine on YouTube and discovered that there was going to be a new theatrical release (I think I already knew about the new Blu-ray.) Just to catch everyone up, this is a very special movie to me. This is a movie I grew up with. My dad had taped the movie off TV, probably before I was born, and I used to watch it a lot. This was a formative film for me. It showed me, at an early age, what incredible things animation can do — that other formats can’t — if it has the ambition; how it can defy reality and create something freewheeling and strikingly original. Followers of this blog know I’m a big fan of Heinz Edelmann’s psychedelic designs, as well as The Beatles’ music (that goes without saying.) So I was excited to see this movie in the theater.

That excitement dissolved when the movie started. Let me preface this by saying that the tickets cost $15 each. I would expect value for that money. But right at the start, the movie screen greeted the audience with the “Please wait” start-up screen of a cheap digital projector. Then it displayed a desktop background. And I began to worry. Friends, this was some truly awful projection. I have adjusted the movie’s original poster here to help you visualize what the presentation looked like. Instead of getting a nice, remastered print — which I would expect after paying what I paid, seeing the HD trailer online, and coming into what seemed to be a nice theater (beautiful ornamentation on the inside) — we got a DVD screener. I had been excited to see the beautifully restored detail and color of the new 4K remastering, but no; we got a god damn DVD screener instead. That was the best these jokers could do. And the digital projector clearly wasn’t made for a screen that big, so the picture was too dark. And they didn’t bother to adjust the projector properly, so the picture was stretched vertically. Everything was too tall. Hell, they didn’t even bother to size-up the projection to the screen until the movie was already underway. And the movie had some pretty severe cropping on the top and bottom. Now, I know Yellow Submarine was originally made for TV in a 4:3 aspect ratio and that it was later cropped to 1.66:1 when they decided to put it in theaters instead. But I have never seen this level of cropping on the movie. During the credits, you could frequently see who worked on the movie, but not what they did, because the top of the frame was cropped off. During “When I’m 64,” the words “long time” as in “one minute is a long time” were partly cropped off at the bottom. When Ringo told the police officer that he’d seen a yellow submarine, Ringo’s face was cut off below the middle of his nose. Now, into the bargain, the sound was rather weak. Not up to scratch. And we kept hearing low-frequency rumbles leaking in from the movie next door.

My fiancée was still enjoying the movie. But I was sitting there feeling pissed. This was a total ripoff. There was no excuse for it. No way was this worth $15. I love the movie, but I was too pissed to enjoy it. And then the picture cut out. It was during the part of “When I’m 64” where they count the seconds in a minute. I think we got up to about 43, and the projector went off. The sound was still playing, but the screen was pitch black. Probably something was configured to automatically turn off after so many minutes. A few seconds went by and nothing changed. I doubt there was anyone in the projection booth. So I ran to the lobby and told the staff about it. Incidentally, when I went out into the hall, I could still hear the movie quite clearly. Soundproofing? In a movie theater? You must be joking! By the time “Only a Northern Song” was playing, the picture was still out. Enough was enough.

I went up to the front desk with my fiancée and made them give me my money back. They tried to offer a voucher first, so I could come back and see another movie for free, but hell no. After an experience like that, I didn’t want to come back. Ever. They were nice enough about it, so I won’t rat them out and tell all of you what theater this was. But I still think they made too many excuses. They told us the distributor is a company called D & E Entertainment, and that this company was in charge of the screening. I’m going to be writing those assholes a letter. Anyhow, the manager said the theater didn’t have as much control over the screening as they would have liked. They said the DVD had only arrived yesterday, for example. But that’s still no excuse for these problems. If the DVD arrived yesterday, then they had a whole day from then to make sure the projection was properly adjusted and there were no kinks in the system. And they shouldn’t have bought such a crappy, underpowered projector in the first place. Now maybe these jokers from D & E were the ones who provided the projection equipment and operated it as well, but it doesn’t matter; it’s still unacceptable to charge $15 per ticket to a piss poor presentation like this. It’s damn unprofessional, and it doesn’t matter who’s responsible.

I recall, now, that I had a nightmare some time ago about going repeatedly to a theater that was like this. I’d constantly get movies played on VHS at this theater, and there would be no indication beforehand that the movies would be presented that way. I must have been a slow learner in this dream, because I walked into one bad screening after another before I finally made up my mind to stop seeing movies there. I attribute this nightmare to two negative experiences I had. First, in my first year of college, I went to see Tim Burton’s Big Fish at one of my university’s special screenings. I forget how much it cost. But they proceeded to project the movie from, yes, a VHS tape, cropped to 4:3. The year was 2004, incidentally, and by this time, I was fully through with VHS tape. I stayed for the whole screening, but I never went to another one. The second experience happened last year. My fiancée and I went to a screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark at a local theater. Again, I don’t remember how much it cost. You know what, I wasn’t going to name the theater, but considering the extreme audacity of this experience — and considering that during other screenings there, the staff have told me that I am wrong to complain when people in the audience take flash photos of the movie — I want this movie theater to starve to a painful, agonizing death. Colonial Theater in Phoenixville, PA. (This was not the same theater where we went to see Yellow Submarine, so we’re clear.) Again, I thought we were going to get film. I’ve seen plenty of movies projected on film at this theater. But no. It was a digital copy. It might have even been the same HDTV rip that has been floating around the internet; it had the same blown-out highlights. Well, then the theater’s god damn screensaver started cutting in. Movie plays for a while, then in comes that god damn screensaver. Finally, it popped up one too many times, and we got the hell out. They were nice enough to give us double our money back, but the experience still left a putrid, festering taste in my mouth. It’s unprofessional and inexcusable. I’ve never gone back to that theater, and I never will.

People complain a lot about the disappearance of local theaters; how they get torn down to put up Starbucks stores and gas stations. But you know what? If these are their standards — if this is the moviegoing experience they are going to provide their patrons, who are paying full-price to see the movies there when they could see them better in their own homes — and if they have no intention of ever getting their act together, then they need to be bulldozed right to the ground to make room for something useful. You sign the demolition orders, and I’ll bring a sledgehammer to help out.

Update: D & E responds. “We apologize sincerely.  Actually, the film was not presented on DVD, but Blu Ray in a HD format as there are no DVDs available.  This HD and remastered format should have looked amazing as it has across the country.  We will investigate.”

8 responses

  1. lemonhead777

    Though the digital projection I saw of Yellow Submarine was not like yours, it was not what I paid for, or expected.
    I can get digital projection at home. And even if the system had been set correctly at your theater, digital is an approximation of the source material. It does not begin to compare to the color saturation or bright and dark level of a 35mm print. What the theaters are showing is a digital scan of a 35mm print. Current positive reviews of these screenings are from those who have no way of knowing what this should have looked like.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    • I would have been ok with digital projection, if it had been a source with any kind of decent resolution and the projector had been powerful enough to make the picture suitably bright. But we got a screener DVD and a weak consumer-grade projector. Total garbage.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:37 pm

      • lemonhead777

        Obviously they’re supposed to have competent staff. At my location the image was very sharp and reflected new detail resulting from the new print. But the color was not what it should have been because a digital projector can’t supply it. And each location would be challenged to know precisely which settings were accurate. It makes the whole idea of projection subjective instead of absolute.

        May 14, 2012 at 12:50 am

      • Perhaps your theater got an HD copy. Mine sure didn’t. A question, then. Was your presentation horribly cropped? Did the opening credits say, for example, “Text Partly Cropped Off: George Martin”? In “When I’m 64,” was the bottom of the words “long time” cut off? I’d hate to think this cropping was indicative of the new DVDs and Blu-rays.

        May 14, 2012 at 8:44 am

      • lemonhead777

        To be absolutely clear, I’m making two different points. You correctly point out an utterly useless theater experience due to staff carelessness. I’m reporting that at it’s best, digital projection has limitations that are unacceptable for a paid theater experience.

        But I’m also saying it was able to display fine details that were not visible in previous releases. Examples include some of the distant strange things that run through Ringo’s house. The figures in “It’s All Too Much” have small visible faces. Paul Rutan and staff did the job correctly ( as they have for “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!”). The 35mm film has new sharpness. This can be expected from the new June 2012 dvd & blu-ray release.

        Since the advent of dvd, a regular practice of going back to negatives for masters has been established. This is to be applauded but it only occurred because the industry knew it could not successfully sell high-resolution images from third-generation prints. It also meant that when the new format appeared, the public reaction was “Look how much better dvd is” when the more accurate response would be “Look how much better the source material is.” But the public doesn’t make distinctions like that.

        And so, once again, just to sell HDTV, we can expect the top and bottom to be cropped off, Even though “pillar-boxed” releases of other films have already happened. The image was cropped in the digital theater and it almost certainly will be for home release. Because god forbid that some black areas appear on your tv.

        There have been suggestions from film projectionists with long careers that Yellow Submarine was meant to be projected with a mask. But it wasn’t, and we know this for a very simple reason.

        When TVC London made Yellow Submarine, they used the 16 inch cel (4:3) used for feature animation as opposed to the 12 inch (also 4:3) used for television, to achieve finer detail on the screen. An animator works knowing precisely where the edge of the defined field is. He has to make sure everything remains within shot. Animation is not live action, it takes work to make a drawing and you don’t do it if it isn’t going to be visible. The most extreme example of this is John Lennon emerging from a circle of meanies with a surrounding crowd in Pepperland.

        A logical argument cannot be made that this complex shot was drawn so it could be cropped. Here it is:

        Sgt P Frame crop wonderful 50% horiz

        There were some camera field errors in the original release. In the Sea of Time, when Ringo says “There’s only two of us” the bottom edge of the unpainted art is visible, even in 16mm prints. All that means is the camera should have been set for, approximately, field 9 instead of 16. It does not mean the entire feature was drawn to be cropped.

        May 14, 2012 at 10:38 am

      • I know that. But never, never have I seen the feature cropped so extremely. The HD trailer had a roughly 1.66:1 ratio, which was in line for the theatrical presentation. I swear what I saw in the theater must have been cropped even more. I’m asking if this particular extreme cropping was what you saw in your theater.

        May 14, 2012 at 11:21 am

  2. lemonhead777

    The cropping in my local theater was the same as the 1999 dvd release.
    You’ve made it very clear that what appeared in your theater was far beyond ridiculous.
    I wrote about the other aspects of this situation because I thought it was worth pointing out it’s history.

    May 14, 2012 at 11:38 am

  3. VGH

    Did the distributor truly investigate and get back to you?

    September 27, 2013 at 4:09 am

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